CUMBERLAND — Brian Bickford, the town’s recreation director since 2010, said he was “overwhelmed” to learn he is one of three people elected to the Maine Golf Hall of Fame this year.
“I’ve always been kind of the ‘team’ guy, (and) this is kind of an ‘I’ thing,” he said with a smile during an interview Sept. 1.
The event will be held at the Poland Spring golf resort in Poland on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Aside from time spent working in Damariscotta and Portland – as chief financial officer at Miles Memorial Hospital and director of finance at Mercy Hospital, respectively – Bickford, 52, has lived in Cumberland for 42 years.
He returned to the town in 2006 to work at the Val Halla Golf Course and Recreation Center, where he balances his responsibilities as head golf professional and director with his duties as a recreation director.
“I find, whether it’s here or at Town Hall, it’s all about building a good team, because I couldn’t do both jobs by myself,” Bickford said, noting that fortunately, “there are different times of the year that each job requires a different focus.”
At the 60 Val Halla Road facility, opened in 1965 and home to the Maine State Golf Association, Bickford has adapted several programs geared toward specific groups – Meghan’s Golf Camp for girls, Wine and Nine for women, and Stein and Nine for men, to name a few.
“I’m not a good inventor, but I’m a good modifier,” Bickford said about bringing the programs to Val Halla. Recalling the Wine and Nine kick-off, he said, “I was trying to get 12 ladies to sign up, and 73 signed up the first year, and then every year since … I’ve averaged about 240 ladies.”
That’s a lot of wine, he joked.
Bickford’s outreach expands to local schools as well. He coached the Yarmouth High School golf team from 2006-08, and has since been a golf coach at his alma mater, Greely High School.
Along with serving on the board of directors for both the New England Professional Golfers’ Association and the Maine State Golfers’ Association, Bickford has also netted numerous NEPGA championships and awards, according to the Maine Hall of Fame.
In that organization’s write up on Bickford, it called his “junior programs … best in the state.”
Those include the “Skills, Drills & Play” programs, catering to youths age 4-14, Professional Golf Association (PGA) camps, and PGA Junior League Golf. A full slate of youth opportunities is available at valhallagolf.com.
Bickford was a kid himself when he first got into golf, teeing off as a 10-year-old at Val Halla, thanks to his family moving close to the course.
“A membership was like $25 … nine holes was $3, 18 holes was $5,” expenses he offset by starting his own caddying business, Bickford recalled.
Golf remains a popular sport in the years since, albeit with its peaks and valleys, he said, noting that with the “Tiger (Woods) boom of the mid 1990s to the early 2000s … we saw a lot of new golf courses in this area.”
“Right now, it’s primarily a golfer-driven market,” Bickford added. “There’s more supply than demand. But I think the overall number of golfers has stayed relatively flat, (and) actually increased recently with programs.”
“People want a program now,” he said of the shift. “Whereas before, it used to be if you got the parents, you got the kids. Now you’ve got to recruit the kids (to) get the parents. I’ve often thought, what better time to spend with your kid than two hours on a golf course with woods around you? It’s very rare to get that in today’s day and age of texting and fast-paced computers.”
Along with getting people outside, golf also teaches self-discipline, Bickford noted. He recalled former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman referring to the sport as the only sport where one is both the player and referee.
“You’ve got a set of rules … and you abide by a code, and if you do something that isn’t in accordance with the code, you call it on yourself,” Bickford said. “I think that in other sports, everybody’s trying to get out of everything, and in golf … you’re not supposed to get out of everything, you’re supposed to do the right thing.”
“It’s not an easy sport, but it’s also a very satisfying sport,” Bickford added. “When you hit a good shot, there are not many things that are better than that.”
Brian Bickford, who has run the Cumberland Recreation Department since 2010 and the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center since 2006, is being inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame.